There’s a very good reason Dubrovnik, Croatia, is considered the Pearl of the Adriatic. It is because of its hyper-charming appearance. The city is only inhabited by about 45,000 people, but it has a much larger presence in tourists’ minds. Dating back to the seventh century, Dubrovnik was devastated by an eight-month Balkan battle in the 1990s that saw 70 percent of its historic buildings bombed. The city dusted off its wounds and rebuilt its ancient monuments to their original luster and, somewhat laughably, achieved UNESCO World Heritage status as the best-preserved medieval city on the globe.
Alright, UNESCO’s standards are absurd, but the restoration does feel authentic even though only three buildings in the old city today withstood both the earthquake that devastated the city in 1667 and the Balkan war. The structures are St. Saviour Church, Rector’s Palace and Sponza Palace and you can tell which buildings are new as they have brightly-colored red tile roofs, whereas the original roofs are more sun-bleached orange. It all looks beautiful; you just have to set aside fact. Like Warsaw, it’s mostly fake, something that locals don’t deny. And tourists don’t seem to care.
There are only two ways in and out of the old city walls, the Pile gate and the Ploce gate. Crowds are so numerous that barriers have made separate passageways for those entering and those leaving. Once inside the gate, the crowds continue. Visit later in the day and off the main road, which connects the gates, to have a less jostled, more relaxing experience.
Inside some of the restored walls, you will find genuine antiquities in the form of Christian artwork and reliquary. Outside the Franciscan Monastery (note the brown robes) is a notable pharmacy that has been in continuous operation for hundreds of years. Find it down the first alleyway to the left after you enter the Pile gate, next to St. Saviour Church. Check out the Dominican Monastery (note the white robes), still in operation, both for some of the finer art pieces as well as for its tranquil cloisters.
Dubrovnik has the second oldest synagogue in Europe, itself a relic as no Jews live in the city today. The synagogue is tiny, easy to miss and not very impressive. An attached, tiny museum has some interesting Jewish artifacts.
Throughout the city you will see statutes of San Blaise, the city’s patron saint, recognizable because he always carries something in his left hand, usually a miniature of the city itself. Most prominently, he guards the entry to the fort that faces the walled city, Fort Lavrijenac.
The walls of the old city are continuous, unlike in many other walled cities where only a part of the wall remains. Here you can pay to walk on top of the wall all the way around the city. It will take about an hour. If you want to save time, choose to walk along the side that faces the sea.
Inside the city’s walls, the streets are stone and can be slippery when wet. One block south of the main street, Placa or Straduj, is the main shopping street, Od Puca. Both lead to the marina where you can catch the ferry. The Ploce gate is north of the marina. North of the main street, towards the mountains, the streets take some climbing to get to. There stairs contain as many as 50 steep steps to get from one street to another and is not compatible with walkers or strollers.
If you can, save time for a fifteen-minute ferry ride to Lokrum, the island facing Dobrovnik, from the hills of which you get a bird’s eye view of the old city. It’s an attraction in its own right, very green with beaches all around, a favorite place for locals to escape. Expect no sandy beaches, rather they are rocky. Still the Aegean Sea is about as clean as it gets (you can see the bottom where it is shallow), and the water is generally pleasantly warm.